Margaret Saunders Ott –program 7


I’ve always wished that everyone could have a lesson with my teacher, Margaret Saunders Ott. Her students left her home with a powerful sense that somehow, in that 45 minutes, the world had become a better place. Margie May, as all her friends call her…Mrs. Ott as all her students call her…has been very active in the Music Teachers National Association, or MTNA…the largest music teachers’ organization in the country. The MTNA gave Margie May their Teacher of the Year Award in 2003, when she was 83 years old. Her lessons are models of practical creativity in teaching, and of the art of revealing “the pattern that connects” as Gregory Bateson said. Margie May attended Mills College in Oakland, and was one of the first women to get a Masters degree from Julliard Conservatory. She taught at Whitworth College and  Gonzaga in Spokane, where she has lived for most of her life. Her husband, Franklin, passed away a few years ago. A farmer and farm implement dealer, he was the perfect partner for Margie May. Their home was a glowing refuge for many of the artists who played in Spokane, including Artur Rubinstein and Glenn Gould, who became friends of the Otts, as did everyone they met.

This interview took place over several days in Spokane where we talked about her childhood, ideas about teaching, years at Julliard, life and music…and more. This program is a very short Lesson With Margie May Ott.             -Philip Aaberg

In Memorium
Margie May Ott July 18, 1920-June 8, 2010
Thank you, Margie May, for your love and wonderful teaching that is now spreading around the world through your students


Download:  Margaret Saunders Ott

Margie May plays Tea for Two (May 27, 2009):

Published in: on March 6, 2009 at 6:55 pm  Comments (47)  

47 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. You are a very inspiring woman. I personally love music myself and play flute. I have been researching my family tree and was just wondering if you may be my great-grandmother. Do you have a daughter who was born in Red Bluff?

    • Thanks for the comment, Stephanie. Margie May doesn’t reply to comments on this website, but I can answer. She has 2 sons, both born in Spokane, WA.
      All the best,

  2. Having spent 20 years as a teacher, although not music, this interview made me feel good about the profession of teaching. She has such class, and has lived such an interesting life, in such a pivotal time for women. I just loved this interview. Makes me glad to be a woman, and a teacher. Philip did an amazing job of drawing her out.

  3. Philip – thank you so much for posting this interview – I worked with Margie May at Whitworth between 1978 and 1981 – she is such an inspiration to me – I still remember how she was not so much interested in the notes as to what happened between them – the silences and connections. A great lady!

    • I feel so indebted to you, Phil, for this remembrance of Margie May. I will treasure it for the rest of my life, and listen when I am lonesome for Margie May’s voice.

      Love, Flora

      • Flora,
        Thanks for listening. Thinking about your mom and Margie May now.
        Someone has collected the messages that Margie May left on their phone. Maybe we could make an audio file of them.
        “Lots of love”

      • The Margie May Quotes book would be a great thing to keep her spirit
        alive in our hearts and minds, not to mention passing MM’s maxims on to others. I would love to have such a book.

        I think of you every day MM. ” What would MM do?” , I have often said to myself. Miss you tons!

        Harry Fix

  4. Margie May was my principle piano instructor who led me through the certification program. After 50 years of teaching all ages of students, Margie May’s source of inspiration,energy, enthusiasm, and encouragement has been my ideal image to love and admire. A truly a remarkable person as well as a teacher and yes, a great lady. Thank you Margie Mae Ott.

  5. Thank you for the wonderful interview. Mrs. Ott is a dear and inspiring teacher and friend. Loving life, loving music, and passionately sharing both through teaching, she continues to gift us with rich treasures for body, mind, and soul. Whether in the studio, or listening to an interview, Mrs. Ott engages each of us to make the world better. She has. Thank you, Mrs. Ott.

  6. I could write an entire book about Mrs Ott. She is one of the most formative teachers I’ve ever had. I credit her with choosing the seminary where I earned my M.Div., and subsequently went into the ministry, but that’s an entire story. Her tutelage to me as a pianist prepared me to bring wonderful and unseen realities into a tangible incarnation. In this interview, she speaks of her desire to be a light where there is darkness. She has certainly accomplished that goal many times over, and has inspired hundreds to do the same. Margie May, “well done, good and faithful servant.” Enter into the joy ahead of you! Love, Mary

  7. I am so grateful for all of you for making it possible to make a small tribute to “Mrs Ott” when it was possible for her to enjoy it. I have very much wanted to see her for some time but for the past 2 days she has been on my mind greatly. I am in Italy with my husband and some singers, doing a little tour. Yesterday I was thinking of her Italian trips…and all the kindness with which she thought of each one of us. The late 60s were not easy times, but she gave each of us the knowledge that music can make us stand tall and that each one of us truly has something to contribute. I believe we are seeing a resurgence of interest in classical music which will make her very happy indeed, because she will never be far from any of us. With love and fond memories to all, Sue

  8. Margie May was and extraordinary individual who touched the hearts of thousands, including my own. She strived to bring “the music” out in all of us, even when we thought the task before us was impossible. She taught me “can’t never did anything” and I have used that in my everyday life ever since I heard the words. Thank you, Margie Mae, for and extraordinary musical ride; it was nothing short of amazing and the memories are forever precious. I salute you……..

    May the road rise to meet you,
    May the wind be always at your back.
    May the sun shine warm upon your face,
    The rains fall soft upon your fields.
    And until we meet again,
    May God hold you in the palm of his hand.

    God Bless you and keep you safe.

  9. Margie May, you always treated me with great kindness – as if I were one of your own flock.

    Although I didn’t have individual lessons with Margie May, I enjoyed the privelege of being coached by her in duet and 2-piano literature alongside my duo partner, Joe Klice. She gave us wonderful details but she really taught us to see & listen for the big picture.

    We were all so blessed to know you, Margie May, and now we wish an eternity of Heaven’s blessings upon you & your beloved Franklin. Love & hugs, Debby

  10. I knew Margie May through her son Jim and first met her in 1957 or so. Around that time she gave me their old Webcor wire recorder. I last saw Margie May a few years ago on an Opera Cruise on Lake CDA. She was spry and clear as a bell. I was always continually amazed at how many people she touched and thus how many people knew her. An incredible legacy to be sure.

    Michael Runyan

  11. I could not be in Spokane a few weeks ago for the Spokane Symphony’s Tribute to Margie May, but I sent the following thoughts to Greg Presley, who was organizing the Pre-Concert Event. Now, although saddened by the fact that I must change verbs to the past tense, I marvel at what she taught us about music and about life and love. Thank you so much, Margie May.

    When I think of Margie May Ott, I think of so many things:

    • A love not just of music, but also of life and all it offers.
    • Her mind and heart constantly intertwined. It wasn’t enough just to learn something. You must use it, and you must use it to better the human condition.
    • She brought insight to all music, whether a simple first year piece for a beginning piano student, or a complex late Beethoven sonata.
    • She loved reading fascinating books, and quoting from them to me, either in person, over the phone, or in correspondence.
    • She loved to laugh.
    • She called everybody ‘honey.’
    • When you doubted yourself, SHE believed in you.
    • She had the ability to miraculously MAKE THINGS HAPPEN.
    • I think Madame Samaroff would be SO PROUD of Margie May and all she has done for the music world all these ninety years!

  12. Sent to the Spokane Music Teachers members and, now, to all of you:
    Once again we have been blessed with the gift of a beautiful friendship and mentor in the life of Margie May Ott. The memories, the tributes, the thoughts, the emotions, the gratitude, the abundance of feelings nearly overwhelm us. The heritage we have through her we will continue to celebrate to the end of each of our lives. In great simplicity, yet with tremendous passion, Margie May loved life, loved music, loved teaching, loved people. May we continue that legacy.
    May God surround each of you with comfort and grant courage to carry on the challenge Margie May entrusts to us.

    We celebrate her life and the rich memories today.
    My prayers for each of you,

  13. I was a student in the Music Department of Whitworth College during the years of 1966-68. Margaret Saunders Ott taught a class on Piano Pedagogy which I feel whetted my appetite to pursue a piano teaching career. Even though I didn’t study privately with Mrs.Ott she was very supportive of me. She even attended my Joint Junior Piano Recital. At that recital Margaret came up to my parents afterwards and asked if there was anything that she could do for us. My father had just been terminated from the church that he was a minister of in Spokane and was desperately trying to find another church. This period of time was very difficult for our family and I felt that Margaret Ott was showing the compassionate side of her personality. Over the years in the piano teaching profession I have met countless teachers and students who have had the privilege of studying with Mrs.Ott. A close colleague of mine in the Seattle Music Teachers Association was the late Harry Hansen. Harry was a high school student of Margaret Ott. He would often share with me the wonderful memories he had of her. Harry lived a ways out of Spokane but said that the drive to her home was well worth it. It is my deepest wish that Margaret Saunders Ott’s teaching legacy will continue on for generations.
    John H.Van Lierop, Jr. NCTM

  14. One day when i visited MM a number of years ago she had been reading Emiliy Dickenson and was entranced by the opening of theis poem.i have carried it with me since that day. i know you all will hear her voice in it.

    This World is not Conclusion.
    A Species stands beyond —
    Invisible, as Music —
    But positive, as Sound —

    • Libby,
      Thanks for that beautiful memory. Some friends of Margie May’s published a little booklet some years back called, “Speaking From Experience.” It contained some of her writings, some of her teaching aids, and some quotes she particularly loved. It would be great to publish that and make it available to a wider audience. Maybe we could add quotes like the one you sent.
      All the best,

  15. I first spoke to Mrs. Ott at an SMTA meeting regarding her Bach interpretations regarding piano and the Cantatas. I was anxious to attend the meeting, for I so loved Bach. Mrs. Ott brought me to life that day – I’d been taught to love Bach in much the same way as she revealed. I regret not thanking her for her timeless & valuable contribution at the meeting close – so many offered accolades, but I was not a face needing to be remembered. I was new to the Association at that time, and had no idea this grand lady was a Hallmark in the music world. Why she made such a deep impact with so few words was a mystery to me. Yet to this day, I often hear her voice: “Of course, Bach is meant to be SUNG!” Listen carefully.

    • Thanks for that, Jayne. Regarding Bach, about 4 years ago Margie May and I were talking and she said, “You should learn the Bach Chromatic Fantasy. That piece is maybe the greatest keyboard work of Bach, and it seems to mean so much to me near the end of my life”. Of course I’d do anything for her, and even though that piece in my memory was linked with competition students playing it as fast as they could, I learned it. And yes, it is unique in Bach’s keyboard works, and I am always very moved when I play it, not just because it reminds me of Margie May. But the point of this story is that after I learned it, she said “Why don’t you come visit and I’ll give you a lesson on the Chromatic Fantasy.” And I thought, “Sure, why not?” So I took the train to Spokane, and after our usual visit and lunch, she said “Why don’t you play the Fantasy for me?”
      Two hours later, after one of the most enlightening and empowering lessons of my life, Margie May said, “Why don’t you take a nap, honey, I don’t want to wear you out.” Of course this was code for “I’m a little tired”, but the truth was that at age 84, Margie May was still giving all that she could give. She taught us how to live. She taught us how to die.

  16. Thank you Phil, for making your wonderful tribute to this great lady available for us all to share – and remember times with Margie Mae.

    It is with a heavy – and yet most grateful heart that I join you in saying ‘goodbye for now’ to Margie Mae – this incredible mentor and friend. She was a uniquely GREAT lady in every sense of the word, so willing to share all she knew and always ready to ‘champion’ each of us. I love her dearly and will be eternally grateful for my years with her and the rare privilege of working with and knowing her. She has left an incredible legacy with all her students who love her so….so….while we have lost an absolute treasure and her physical presence will be greatly missed, her legacy and influence in our lives is so strong, that she will be with us always. I certainly share the beautiful thoughts Debbie, Colleen have expressed – as well as those of so many of the rest of you. Each sentiment expressed is so special and indicative of the influence Mrs. Ott left on so many in so many areas of the world. Thank you again for making the sharing possible, Phil…and Debbie

    • Thanks, Karlyn. One of the unexpected gifts of Margie May’s passing is getting to hear from students outside my years with her. I can’t tell you how many times she said, “You remember so-and-so…”, speaking of a student from another generation. I finally quit saying “No” so I could hear these wondrous tales of others. My MMO gang was Rick Nobis, Stephen Drury (who was younger than us, so we called him “Little Stevie”,also after Stevie Wonder because he is a wonder) , Connie (Jarvis) Wolfe, Dwight Dixon, Sue Lane, Gordon Pietz, and several others whose faces I see, but whose names are not popping up (somebody, help!)

      • And of course, Eileen Codd…
        I’ll also list Kenneth Drake in this number, because I believe he and Margie May first met during those years. Although he never “studied” with MMO, and is as influential as teacher and pianist, he recently wrote that MMO was a defining influence on him. Those of you who have heard him play Beethoven on his Broadwood piano, or read his Beethoven books, will recognize the life-altering qualities he brings to any exchange. He once said to me, “The most important/influential things in my life are my childhood and my teachers.”

      • Another Idaho MMO student of those days was Jill Farver.

      • Thank you for remembering Gordon Pietz.

      • Flora,
        I’ll never forget him. We were at the Montana State University High School Chamber Music Festival when Mrs. Ott was there for an MTNA convention. She played Brahms at a free concert one evening. Of course, Gordon and I sat together and were completely enthralled and inspired. Another pianist came up to us and said “Too much pedal.” I thought Gordon was going to pound him into the ground right there.
        I think Gordon won the High School MTNA competition that year. We miss him and his playing too much to say.

  17. The only way I could think of to express what was so deep inside was to write Margy May a letter:

    Dear Margy May,

    It has been an amazing journey of memories, emotions, connections and re-connections these last few weeks as we contemplate the gift of love and music that you entrusted to us. You inspired us, you believed in us, pushed us and even fussed at us in our pursuit of our musical voice and thus ourselves.

    To say that you only taught piano lessons or even just music all those years is to miss the point. You used music and the instrument to teach us about life and ourselves. You understood that the lessons of music were the lessons of life and vice-versa. In your studio, to truly understand how a particular phrase of music should be interpreted and breathe we had to reach deep within and find that place in our heart from which to express it. You used every means possible to draw this from us; a poem or a story, your hands on ours, an anecdote from a distant land, or that sing-song voice of yours with those loving pinches of laughter that came straight from your own heart.

    So it will not surprise you that the lessons I learned from you not only taught me how to find my musical voice but transcended the piano to apply to composition, instrument building, even software engineering, of all things! But in my 35 years of piano teaching I find the keenest connection with you when I set out to pass along the gifts you gave to us to my own students. These are your musical grand-children, and I make sure, as they mature, that they understand and know their pedagogical heritage.

    I never dreamed that we would have the opportunity to play for you, Margy May, as we did last month just before you would pass away. Now we have new connections with each other and I have treasured time spent with some of them and especially Debbie these last few weeks. So many thanks to Debbie and Greg and others for making these re-connections possible.

    Margy May, you of all people know that not one of us will ever really complete that journey that you set us upon; ” The indefatigable pursuit of an unattainable perfection, even though it consists in nothing more than the pounding of an old piano, is what alone gives meaning to our life on this unavailing star” but then, that was the whole point. We will truly “live” in the pursuit of this and that passion will live in each and every one of us. We miss you terribly, and yet you live and breathe in every word we say to our students and each step we take in our lives.

    Thank you, Margy May. Please know that we will continue as your students and pursue that gift of music and love that you gave to us for the rest of our days. And of course, we promise we’ll continue on with Saturday Class in our hearts while you’re gone.

    Your loving student,
    Chet Noll

  18. I met Margie May when I was 17. I’d flown to Spokane from Cheyenne, Wyoming to audition for her at Whitworth, and I was terrified. With her big warm smile and easy laugh, Margie May immediately put me at ease, and made me feel that, studying with her, anything was possible.
    Ten years later, I had my first teaching job at Northeastern University. When Margie May learned that Northeastern’s “Night at the Boston Pops” was approaching, she said, “Honey, why don’t you just send John Williams a recording of one of your concerto performances?” She had that carefree lilt in her voice, the same one she had when offering a Fig Newton at her kitchen table, as if this were as simple a thing to do as eating a cookie.
    It is hard to imagine the life I have lived without Margie May. She not only opened up possibilities in music that I had never imagined, she also introduced me to every book she was reading, and every artist whose paintings inspired her. My memories of walking together through the Chicago Institute of Art, mesmerized by Monet’s Water Lilies, or through the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art, eyes skyward to watch the slow spin of the Calder sculpture overhead, are as vivid as those spent waiting to perform for her in the house on Upper Terrace, nervous fingers thrumming inside the carved lion’s mouths on each chair arm, waiting my turn at her Rosewood Steinway. During her first generous words of praise, which followed every performance, from the best to the worst, there was always the anxiety of awaiting Margie May’s “Now dear…” that would signal the hours of practice ahead.
    The most amazing aspect of knowing Margie May was feeling the embrace of her love, which was a constant stream over the almost forty years I knew her. Margie May spent her life lavishing her love on each and every one of her students. I will spend the rest of mine missing her.

    • Linda,
      Thanks so much for that wonderful letter. If all of her students together could match the intensity of that “constant stream of love”, we would ensure her legacy. We were so lucky.
      As ever,

  19. At the suggestion of Debbie Dewey, I’m posting some stream of consciousness memories of Margie May here that also went to the students. And to those who contacted me before our performance on May 1 to say that you would be unable to attend, please know that I went through the entire list of emails from former students with Margie May. Even though her memory was failing in many areas, she remembered each student and had an avid curiosity about what each one was up to.

    Margaret Ott

    I first met her around 1971. I moved to Spokane in 1970, and had already had a fair degree of success as a young pianist – winning a state-wide competition in Nevada as a 7th grader. Her name was passed on to us as the person to study from in Spokane, but she was having a health issue in the school year 1970-1971 and was teaching very little, so I studied with Esther Nelson starting in the late fall of 1970 and through early fall of 1971.

    First impression: Wow, look at all that red hair. She seems imposing and regal, in a way – but not rigid – a free spirit. I bet she’s going to make me work really hard.

    Memories of lessons on Upper Terrace:
    Lots of maxims and directions – “honey, you have to learn the right notes and right fingerings from the very beginning – it’s almost impossible to fix them later”
    “honey, dig that 5th finger in to bring out the top of the chord”
    “honey, no one’s interested in just hearing a bunch of notes”
    “honey, you have to LISTEN”
    “honey, LET GO – the pedal will hold that note”
    “honey, let your arm be free – don’t grip the piano”
    “honey, you have to sing and conduct to figure out the shape of the phrase”
    “honey, put your hand on my wrist to feel how it moves when I play this measure”
    “honey, stand up – we’re going to dance the minuet/ feel ballet position in our bodies/ stamp the rhythm of the mazurka”

    In my era: the colorful muumuus, usually green or blue, and some exotic necklace with big stones – maybe a big ring with a great big stone on a bony, slender finger

    Deep pencil marks on the page – every long group of 16th notes hatched off starting with the 2nd sixteenth and ended on a downbeat of the next measure. Every phrase having a marked direction, cresc or decresc often ending in a big FF and sometimes with a smiley face. Slashes through the beats in passages which were hard to count. Lots of dots, tenutos, accents – “Recitative – dramatic – silence – start slow –

    The house – gorgeous big living room, wonderful oriental rugs whose patterns and designs you traced as you waited for someone else’s lesson to finish, the built-ins, funny old imposing Victorian furniture, pocket doors, the two pianos crammed into the dining room with a harpsichord/clavichord in residence – a table back there too, piles of music. The hidden pantry, where she would disappear for 5 minutes and then appear with a well-used copy of something which would be thrust into your hands – “honey, I want you to learn this”. The wooden shoe out front with the spare key to the house in plain view of any passing would-be thief. “Puppy”, barking furiously at a passing squirrel and “Kitty”. The huge bathroom with the clawfoot tub. The mysterious den off to the right – the strange little added-on kitchen with the cramped breakfast nook in the back. Tina cleaning and talking in a heavy Italian accent. The occasional random appearance of Franklin, or the Saunders. The beautiful perennial garden off to the side, or the front walk lined with tall ferns that would unfurl in 2 or 3 magical days late in the spring. Wondering if there really was water in that little well/spring in the back.

    Performance class – 10-15 kids nervously clutching their music seated on the couch, the big chairs, and a few fold-up chairs. Having to have 2 pieces ready to play for class, but of course she always seemed to pick the one which was least prepared. Many prayers offered to be picked first and get it over with – second prayer, failing that one – “Please let me go before Debbie or Steve plays some impossibly hard and impressive piece without any mistakes”. The horror of having to say something significant about your piece in front of other people when you introduced it. “Honey, let’s try that again, but this time see if you can make the accompaniment softer”. “Honey, if something goes wrong, JUST FINISH it somehow”.

    The introductions and opportunities:

    “Honey, I was talking to Sister Xavier Mary and she has a good violinist. I want you to accompany her – maybe you should form a little trio”

    “Honey, I’m going to have you play down at the Spokane Club for some people – they’ll pay you a little bit”

    “Honey, there’s a singer that needs an accompanist for a wedding/funeral/recital/competition”

    “Honey, someone just asked me if I knew anyone who could play for a musical and I suggested you”.

    “Honey, I was talking to a friend in Hawaii, and she said she’d love to have you come play for the music teachers there”

    “Honey, I made a phone call and found out there’s a good chance to get a music scholarship at Yale/Harvard/Wellesley/Maryland/Boston University”

    “Honey, I think there’s a way you could go to Interlaken/Tanglewood/a piano camp at WSU.”

    “Honey, I have to go out of town for 2 weeks. Could you teach three 8th graders for me while I’m gone?”

    “Honey, I heard there was a job at Whitman/Walla Walla/ EWU/UW/WSU/Idaho/Montana/Pendleton/Bellingham/Arkansas/Minneapolis/Colorado.”

    “Honey, I’d like you to meet Lili Kraus/Glenn Gould/Daniel Pollack/Artur Rubinstein/Mr. Babin/Theodore Lettvin/Claudio Arrau” ‘I’m having a little party at my house after the symphony concert”.

    “Honey, the symphony needs someone to read through concertos with them for the conducting students to practice on”

    The occasional battles of will, most of which she won: no, I’m NOT going to play only what’s on the beat – that’s stupid. No, I’m not going to be guilted into doing this or that. No I’m not going to practice without the pedal for a whole week. No, I’m not going to play that hokey piece. No, I will not wear a suit just to play in musicfest.

    The charm of hearing her say, “you know the best thing about being a teacher is when your students grow up and become your FRIENDS”.

  20. I came from a very troubled home and so practice for me in those days with dear Margie May was not always exemplary! I know that I was not her best student and yet, she never once gave me the impression that I was less capable than the others. She inspired me to go beyond my expectations . There were times when she re-fingered a passage for me. I thought in those days that it was because I was not good enough to play it as it was written. What I realized later was that she was actually setting me free to play. She was so wise! She became the mother to me that I never had because she invested herself in every aspect of my life and was so affirming. I was not just a student to her. Later I was able to apply everything that she taught me and I have been able to blossom into a pianist that she was proud of. Thank you Margie May for hanging in there with me and seeing what I could become when I did not. Thank you for believing in me and setting me free! Thank you for being the example of what a true teacher should be. I love you Margie May!

  21. My friends,

    Today a crate arrived from Spokane with many thanks to Jim Ott who made sure it was packed carefully and shipped to me. The crate had in it the precious clavichord that sat proudly in the South Hill house and then the Manor for 35 years. This was the very first of a long string of keyboard instruments I built and the one that Margie May had commissioned me to build for her my Freshman year at Whitworth.

    As I opened the package I imagined the familiar smells. But mostly, I remembered very vividly a life changing, if not very short conversation with Margie May. We attended a lecture recital of the famed clavichordist, Joan Benson, who performed an entire concert on a variety of clavichords from 5 octave double manuals to 1 octave instruments that sat in one’s lap. They were exquisite instruments and Margie May was absolutely enthralled with the miniature but rich sound these instruments made. Sitting beside Margie May and whispering in each others ear during the concert, the conversation went like this:

    “Do you want me to make one of those for you, Margie May?” (not entirely serious on my part)
    “Yes!” (with a big smile, said in all seriousness and an intent to follow through)

    The next day she sent me off with a check to buy what I needed to build her clavichord. It was the first of more than a dozen clavichords, harpsichords, and fortepianos that I was to build throughout my life. Some of you may remember the French Double Manual Harpsichord that was in her Studio during my years at Whitworth. This harpsichord I built from the money she gave me left over from the clavichord. That harpsichord is still in use by the Oakland Symphony. There are many pictures of Margie May sitting at this instrument and this tends to be the picture of her used by Whitworth.

    The clavichord represented for Margie May the quintessential tool for teaching how to listen. Because the sound of the clavichord is so small, one really has to be still, quiet and focused to hear it at all. She advised me when I performed on this instruments to ask the audience to “set your programs down, clear throats, and be very, very still.” What I discovered when performing on this instrument was that people listened unlike they had ever listened before and they loved it. In its small way, the clavichord was richer in harmonic overtones than either the harpsichord or the piano.

    Playing the clavichord is like writing in one’s diary. Because you have very direct contact with the strings it is extremely sensitive. It is nigh to impossible to play the same piece the same twice and is very sensitive to one’s current mood. Margie May told me one time that it “talked back to her when she wanted a friend to talk to.” She often played it at night when she couldn’t sleep and not wake anyone up.

    So Margie May’s clavichord returned to its builder, but certainly not its owner. It will always be hers. There is a certain awkwardness to having it back that resembles the awkwardness of not having Margie May with us anymore. Thanks Jim, for sending to me this piece of her life. I am excited to share it with my own students just as she did with hers, for years to come.

    If any of you have memories of this clavichord that you would be interested to share, I would be delighted to hear them!


  22. Friends of Margie May,

    With all the beautiful and serious stories of Margie May, I thought it would be appropriate to offer one that was light-hearted. After all, nobody had more “fun” with life than she. Her infectious little laugh reminded you that life ought to be enjoyed and be fun. For Margie May there was always a funny story to be told for any occasion. She was a wonderful story teller and she loved to tell us stories. For example, I will never forget her telling us, after a trip to Japan, about all the little Japanese kids with Walkmans and their headphones on listening to their rock-and-roll music. She exclaimed how wonderful it was to see and how happy music, any kind of music, was making an entire generation of a particular culture.

    So here’s my story of Margie May and “technical wizardry”.

    When I was brand new to Margie May’s studio, a skinny, awkward Freshman at Whitworth, she had a very old gooseneck lamp by her piano in the Whitworth studio. To me this old brown lamp with long, articulating arms was like some odd, mythical octopus creature whose lanterns could be pointed in many directions at once. In the dark, old music building at Whitworth, this lamp was very important to just being able to see our own music!

    I noticed over the course of time that the lamps, one by one, went out. When the last lantern went dim, Margie May asked me during my lesson, if I knew anything about fixing lamps. After all, I had built her a clavichord, hadn’t I? To her this seemed child’s play to me. Not knowing much of anything about lamps but not wanting to disappoint her, I agreed to take it back to my dorm room for inspection.

    I was delighted to discover that the great old lamp was in need of only one thing: new light bulbs. When I returned it later that afternoon she was so very impressed with me to the point of embarrassment. Amidst her great hugs of appreciation I valiantly tried to explain to her that I had done nothing special, only replaced the bulbs. But she was undeterred, “But who would have thought of that!” she exclaimed. From that time on, in Margie May’s eyes, I could fix… Anything. You can only imagine the story from there.

    Some months later, there was a recital in the old recital hall. There was not really a decent piano on stage at the time. I don’t remember who’s recital it was but arrangements had been made to move her Whitworth studio piano to the hall for the event that evening. When I received a campus emergency call that pulled my out of the middle of an Art History class to the Recital hall I saw Moving Men on stage standing around her piano scratching their heads. “Chet, I’m so glad you’re here, Margie May said as she came whipping around the corner toward me, “The lid won’t close.” The fallboard was stuck in an awkward place, half open, half closed, rendering the piano unplayable. Never having seen a fallboard as uncooperative as this one, I kneeled down and reached my hand in to see what I could find. I pulled out not one, not two, but THREE of – and I am not kidding here – her missing spectacles. These had been forever lost inside her piano and remained hidden until that fateful day her piano was turned on its side to be moved. They were hopelessly caught in the hinge of the fallboard until I freed them. Margie May was delighted and giggled uncontrollably at the absurdity of it all, but she was in no way embarrassed, just grateful the problem had been solved and that she would not have to buy any more spectacles for many years to come.

    Then, there was the day Don Caron gave one of his wonderful 20th century lecture recitals. It was a recital dedicated to the works of Samuel Barber. I remember to this day how hard Donald worked on the Sonata, practicing the wicked little circle pattern in the right hand to make it sound like, as Margie May described it, “shards of broken glass”. Anyhow, when Don gave these lectures he had a habit of sitting at the piano bench with one ankle of the other leg as he referred to his notes in a big black binder. I noticed that as he did this that night that his knee was pressing against the keyslip of the piano. Out in the audience, I contemplated how that would affect the piano he was about to play very soon. Don finished his talk and then turned to the piano. After playing for a few seconds he stopped suddenly – there was a loud click accompanying every note he played. He tried again, but the same thing happened. Up onto the stage comes Margie May in one of her bright, colorful dresses. With hand over her eyes to block the brightness of the stage lights she peered into the audience, hunting intently for, of all people, me. “Is Chet here?” she said to the audience at large. I shyly made my way up to the stage and placed both hands on the keyslip and pushed it back down where it belonged and returned to my seat. Margie May started an applause and I turned beet red. The recital went on and the piano was fine.

    I’m sure there were many of you who were declared “technical wizards” by Margie May. I have met many people with fears of technical things but Margie May embraced them, not on her own, but by calling on others to help. For me, it made me feel important when she asked these things of me. As a shy, awkward teenager I was grateful that I could give back to her, in some small ways something in return for all her love and confidence in me.


  23. Dear Phil and Deb,

    Thanks so much for opening avenues to celebrate the world that Margie May has given us. I’ve never met Phil, but I may as well know him from the many conversations I’ve had with Margie May. I remember Debbie as a young, talented, tall and skinny blonde. I was studying with Esther Nelson at the time and later moved over to Mrs. Ott in high school. I was so excited to find out that Debbie was living in Seattle when my family moved here in 1986. We’ve been great friends ever since.

    My first memory of Mrs.Ott was at age 8 when my teacher, Darlene Shelski, (I may not be spelling her name correctly) was a student of MSO at Whitworth. I was invited to perform a Bach Short Prelude at one of Mrs. Ott’s pedagogy classes for her college students. I still remember MSO handing me one of those note cards with her initials on it and the lovely words of encouragement scribbled inside.

    Many years later as an adult and moving to Spokane for a few short years, lessons resumed and goals were set. Margie May insisted I could get a short recital program ready. Being a busy mother of three children under the ages of 5, she said to me, “Honey, you can do it! I’ll send Tina (her housekeeper) over and she can help you out so you can practice.” Tina came over and took charge of my house and home and I went to the piano. It gave me the jump-start I needed to get back to the bench!

    Years later, Margie May would call me in Seattle and line up another recital at Rockwood Manor for me and my two daughters, who were now growing up in the tradition of a life of music. She spanned generations.

    MM would call up my father and check to see if he was still practicing his clarinet. As my dad was developing Alzheimers, she scheduled dates to play with him. And, of course, there were the two funerals: my mother’s and then my father’s one year later where Margie May played her heart out. I still remember the beautiful, yet slightly abbreviated rendition, of Poulenc’s 15th Improvisation, ‘Hommage to Edith Piaf’, that she played just a few years ago at my father’s funeral.

    Many, many people are playing for you, Margie May, not for just a day, but always.

    Joan Weidner Schoepflin

  24. What a privilege to read others’ memories of Margie May. I was not a student of hers, but having read your posts I now dearly wish I had been. I spent many years of Thanksgivings with Margie May, Franklin and her mother when I was a child, and she became an adoptive grandmother to me. She called me regularly to say hello, tell me which student had come through Spokane recently, and ask me what I was up to.

    I remember her voice saying, “Oh, sure” to almost everything. She called me in October 2008 to ask how I was faring after the economic collapse. “I’m worried about your generation, honey. My generation has been through this, and we’re all old anyway, but yours has never been through something like this and I am thinking of you.” I asked her what it was like to grow up during the depression, and she told me how her father kept his general store going by getting his suppliers to continue providing groceries and necessities even though no one in his community could pay him. She said his reputation and faith pulled Mount Hope through the depression.

    She talked her parents into getting her a horse when she was little so she could ride the mile or two to her grandparents’ house from her parents’ store. She said, “We didn’t have any money, but I think my parents knew that as an only child I was lonesome and I needed a pet, and a horse doubled as transportation so they gave in!”

    I called her from piano camp in Bennington, Vermont in 2009, having just seen a movie about Rosina Lhevinne who had been a contemporary of Madame Samaroff, and asked her what Juilliard had been like back then. She told me stories, and when I gushed about Madame Lhevinne from the movie she said, “Well, honey, no one really wanted to take lessons from Madame Lhevinne. They all wanted to study with Madame Samaroff!”

    She told me that when she and Franklin met, he was the only boy who had asked her if SHE liked to dance. He turned on the radio so she could stop playing piano music for everyone else and invited her to dance. He was the love of her life.

    I was very grateful to have the chance to spend an hour with her two months before she died, on the day of my aunt’s funeral. I asked her if she ever thought about life after death. She said, “Not really, honey. All I know is that Franklin will be there.” Her face lit up like a Christmas tree — “and that’s all I need to know!” She told me she was ready for her time to come; she had lived a great life and was happy to stay or go at any time. While it’s painful to lose Margie May for my sake, I am also happy that she is back with Franklin.

    I visited Mount Hope for the first time this afternoon with Joan and John Weekes (Mrs. Weekes was my piano teacher, and I only realized this year that she also was a student of Margie May’s). We went to see her grave and the church where her first piano is; unfortunately for me the church was not open. She is perched on a hill in the midst of gorgeous rolling wheat fields right next to Franklin.

    I am deeply grateful to have known Margie May. She loved me (and everyone) with such a generous heart and inspires me to be my best self.

    • Chris…thanks for more threads in the tapestry of Margie May’s life. Greg Presley gave me 6 CDs of interviews he did with MMO. He’s such a champion!
      I may edit them a bit and will post them here. It’ll be a while, but keep reminding me.
      At the memorial service, someone (maybe Dr. Robinson) called Margie May “fearless”. That was true, and the amazing thing is that it was not “anastrophic anticipation”, but awareness of the whole world and how everything is connected. She was learning every day. From her students, from reading, from her friends, from events. And she tied those things together and communicated what she knew to us. There were no “secrets” to be learned with the price of a lesson…she gave them freely to everyone. Her son Dan said at the memorial that Margie May anticipated the spread of information we enjoy through the Internet, but she did it as fast with postcards, a smile, and a rotary-dial telephone.

  25. I think Margie May died on Tuesday, June 8. I don’t get very many opportunities to work on solo pieces just for me these days, but I had recently been re-learning the Prelude from le Tombeau de Couperin. Could never, over a few years of practicing, then having to give it up for other priorities, really get it memorized. To me that piece is like my life, you have to stay aware but not analyze too much as you go, and having already done the woodshedding, just let it play. But I always got lost in the middle from lack of attention, just like I always feel like I get lost in my life from the same lack. I had decided that sometime before my life is really over, I could see the whole thing. But on that day, the Prelude was actually coming together. When I got to the last little flourish, my consciousness went to her little Rockwood apartment, and I said to her, “Well, I think I can die now, since finally I have been able to make it to the end.” She laughed. Now I realized that, being freed from time and space constraints, she was actually paying me a call and sending a bit of that transcendence that she was so infused with.

    Margie May loved her home community south of Spokane: Mount Hope, Rockford, and Fairfield, where her dad’s farm implement dealership was. Having grown up on a farm near theirs near Fairfield, also, I always felt intimidated that she only took me on as a student because I was a link to there (since I was never any great shakes as a pianist!!). She asked me at every lesson about my parents, grandparents, uncles, cousins, friends in common, and I would usually be kind of baffled because, living in the dorm at Whitworth, I generally hadn’t seen these folks in the past week! She had an intense connection with her people and her home, and of course, Franklin, who was always as interested in us a s she was. She considered it an honor to play for the annual Memorial Day service at the tiny church in Mount Hope every year, or for a friend’s funeral, and she would pay all the old time hymns, familiar to all present, and only a scattering of classical music such as Fur Elise or the lyrical part of Chopin’s E major Etude, all by memory and in her own slightly improvised way.

    I always though she was impractical. She like to joke about herself not knowing how to “cream” the butter and sugar in a cookie recipe, or having driven through the uncut wheat during harvest. BUt as time passed, I realized that she had figured it out and stuck to it: the truth about life–that is priorities–and she had it right and was single-minded in sticking to that truth. A year or two ago, I showed up for a visit at her apartment and she had prepared a beautiful handmade card for me, photo of lake Coeur d”Alene and this quotation”

    “When the wonder of each word
    has been made clear,
    then every child
    should be taught to realize:
    I am a miracle…
    I am a unique being;
    there never has been a person like me
    since the beginning of the world –
    nor will there be
    until our world comes to an end.”

    Pablo Casals

    Through this sentiment, she lived grace to every person she encountered. The elevator operator, the janitor, the person on the bus, whomever crossed her path. That is, I think, the real lesson that she wanted to teach us a s students. Grace. Unconditional love, And in that, our stewardship of the same.

  26. A defining moment that I recall to this day was when I asked Mrs. Ott, early in my senior year of high school, if I should go on in music. She hesitated a moment, and then replied, “If you have to ask, I have to wonder.” Initially, I felt the sting. Part of me wanted her to say, “Of course you should go on in music. You’re so talented.” But I think I already knew the truth. I was a better than average pianist, but it would have been a long slog to make it as a professional musician given my abilities and temperament. Like all her students, Mrs. Ott knew me well. Her honesty hurt at first, but she wisely carried on by saying “You can be a lawyer and play the piano, but you can’t be a pianist and practice the law.” She knew I was considering law as a potential career. I went to college and studied piano seriously, but not as my major. I continued to play during my early professional years as I struggled to find my way, first in business and ultimately, after ten years of soul-searching, in psychology. Over the years, I played piano less, grad school and work taking their toll on my time at the piano. But Mrs. Ott remained in my life, her interest more in me than my commitment to the piano. She always urged me to keep playing, but mainly she wanted to know what and how I was doing. She was so proud when I got my doctorate, and she always was curious about my child clients for whom I provided therapy. When my father was killed in a car accident my first week of college, she wrote me a card I treasure to this day. When my mother passed away more recently, Mrs. Ott again came forth and offered her unique brand of support, this time in person in her Rockwood Manor apartment where we met the day after my mother’s memorial service. From an adolescent boy for whom piano made high school tolerable to a grown man who deeply felt the loss of his mother, Mrs. Ott seemed always to be there for me. Her reserve of empathy, energy, curiosity, and love was truly remarkable, and she shared these gifts most generously. She was a great piano teacher, but she was so much more. I miss her calls, her voice (Oh, honey…!), her infectious love of music, and her playing, but most of all, I am grateful…grateful to have known her and to have experienced first-hand, through her example, just how much a single life can mean to so many.

    Thank you Jim, Dan and others whose efforts made possible last weekend’s beautiful memorial service.

  27. Phil, thanks so, so much for collecting this invaluable archive – here is a belated addition –

    The 2010 concerts, classes and rehearsals of the Summer Institute for Contemporary Performance Practice at New England Conservatory are dedicated to the memory of Margaret Saunders Ott, my beloved teacher of many, many years, who passed away last week at the age of 89. She set an example of caring, commitment, enthusiasm, energy, curiosity, musical inspiration and love that I have never seen equaled. It was thanks to her that I became a musician and a teacher, and discovered that music is a source of life, a way of expressing life, and a way of living life.

    In about 1968, waiting for my piano lesson in the large, beautiful room outside her teaching studio, I noticed the book Twentieth Century Music by Peter Yates, which she had left on her coffee table. Opening it at random, I was immediately struck by Yates’ description of “the famous – or, as many insist, infamous – composition 4’33” by John Cage, known as the “Silent Sonata” …” and my life took a sharp left turn. Mrs. Ott encouraged me to take the book home, patiently sat through my struggles with music by Charles Ives, let me prepare her phenomenally beautiful Steinway (one of the best instruments I have ever encountered), and managed to connect my new-found dissonances with her treasured grand romantic tradition. John Cage, hearing this story many years later, said “she must be a very smart woman, laying such traps for you …”

    It was thanks to Mrs. Ott’s acute understanding of the possibilities and curiosities inside this 13-year-old kid that I was later able to meet and work with Cage, Christian Wolff, Helmut Lachenmann … Chaya Czernowin… and so many of the greatest music creators of our time. Thanks to her that I was able to study with Claudio Arrau. She taught something close to a thousand students over her life and opened every one of them up to this way of living and singing. It’s why we do what we do.

  28. Mrs. Ott often spoke of Samaroff and how special she was. I know she revered Samaroff and all that she represented to her pupils, but I can admit that not a day goes by that I don’t compare my own teaching with that of Mrs. Ott’s. She still inspires. She knew my work would be with singers long before I knew one could do that! She knew it was a personal journey to play, sing, perform, teach…music, and she believed in the commitment of the spirit for the journey. She knew it was an individual path for each of us and tried to equip us with skills, stamina and belief that we could make the world a more beautiful place through music.

  29. On February 11, 2008, Margie May and I went back upstairs after dinner to
    > her apartment to talk. The lights were low, and the familiar
    > surroundings of the two grand pianos and framed pictures all around
    > were such a comfort to me. We talked for a few minutes. Then she
    > said, “come over here and lie down.” She had me come over to the sofa
    > where she was sitting, and lie down with my head in her lap. She
    > said, “I’m going to help you feel more free.” Then she touched my
    > face, massaging the temples, and working her magic fingers around the
    > tensed muscles in my neck. She kept trying to loosen my neck so my
    > head would drop without my “help”. Interesting that she noticed it
    > was hard for me not to help her as she was manipulating my head and
    > neck. She said that I was always helping others, and that’s why I
    > needed to learn how to completely let go and release all tension in my
    > face and neck. It was transforming to have my head in her lap, and to
    > feel so completely cherished and loved. She told me just to close my
    > eyes and listen….she would talk. I listened to her voice talk about
    > balance and centering and love, and felt her amazing hands and fingers
    > work away the soreness I didn’t even know was there! /*
    > */I felt the shedding that happens when all else that so recently had
    > seemed so important faded away, and I found my entire presence so
    > aware and in the moment! What a gift of love and healing touch….she
    > has an uncanny way of knowing. Knowing the resonation of my spirit
    > was crying to be touched. It was as if an angel was caressing my
    > face, and opening my mind to new possibilities of living in the
    > moment. Those beautiful hands….spidery and marked with the remarkable
    > design of aging spots as if painted perfectly by Jackson Pollock. /*
    > */A transformation….a shifting of my soul took place as my head
    > relaxed on her lap, feeling her breathing, and hearing the lovely
    > tones of her voice softly above my head. The grace and gift of a
    > living angel given so freely….worth more than anything I could
    > imagine. A blessing in a sacred space of love and warmth and
    > healing….when I didn’t even know my heart was calling for her
    > ministerial gift./*
    Jody Graves

  30. I am a former student of Margie May and was asked to represent her students and speak at her memorial service. This is what I said. I still miss her, achingly, and yet she and her ideas continue to lead me through what I do each day!

    The path that has been unfolding and carrying me here today is 45 years long. It began with my first piano lesson with Margaret Saunders Ott and it has led to this day, her 90th birthday, with all of you.

    Her death, for me, is an unspeakable loss. Every interaction with her was suffused with intellectual camaraderie, with stories about our shared group of people, with the delicious joy of music and our relationship to it, and with the radiance of our love for each other. We could spend hours and only begin to scratch the surface of possibility. I had not been able to incorporate this loss, let alone write about it, until Jim and Dan asked me to speak today and I had no choice!

    I knew that preparing for today would be a mighty challenge. I felt, in many ways, inadequate. What a life, what a woman, what a heritage! I have since discovered that the flip side of coming to terms with Margie May’s death has been an infusing revival of my own life, through the inspiration of memories — mine, and those of her flock of students.

    Luckily, several beautiful student tributes that had come my way got me thinking…I could be a mouthpiece for her students! I sent out an SOS of sorts. Contributions flowed in, via email, about this woman who had guided, loved and prodded us. Twenty-eight printed pages, shared among 76 of us. Impossible to distill. Each an extraordinarily personal glimpse into the formidable Mrs. Ott and her pivotal impact on our lives.

    You MUST read them! All you have to do is Google “Margaret Ott Philip Aaberg” and you will find the interview that Philip did with Margie May. On that page are the tributes. There will be more arriving as time goes by.

    Through the process of sharing our grief and our experiences, we students have formed a new web of friendship and admiration. We are all connected now, thanks to Margie May’s encircling love.

    Some snippets from her students’ tributes (I’ll indicate each new one with my raised finger):

    *First impression: Wow, look at all that red hair. She seems imposing and regal, in a way – but not rigid – a free spirit. I bet she’s going to make me work really hard*

    * It was thanks to her that I became a musician and a teacher, and discovered that music is a source of life, a way of expressing life, and a way of living life*

    * I know that I was not her best student and yet, she never once gave me the impression that I was less capable than the others. *

    *The world is a little lonelier knowing that Margie May is not around to cheer me up with her voice of indomitable optimism*

    *I was a difficult student, but Mrs. Ott worked with me anyway, and I know she didn’t have to*

    * It was transforming to have my head in her lap, and to feel so completely cherished and loved*

    *Mrs.Ott said, time to get ready for a recital. Being a busy mother of three children under the age of 5, I appreciated her arranging for her housekeeper to come clean my house*

    *She didn’t strive to approve our choices, but to make sure we were satisfied with them and that they were ours*

    *She would instill in me the idea that it was not the notes that were important- It is what takes place between the notes*

    * I had my first teaching job at Northeastern University. When Margie May learned that Northeastern’s “Night at the Boston Pops” was approaching, she said, “Honey, why don’t you just send John Williams a recording of one of your concerto performances? She had that carefree lilt in her voice…as if this were as simple a thing to do as eating a cookie*

    *Dear Margie May…You inspired us, you believed in us, pushed us and even fussed at us in our pursuit of our musical voice and thus ourselves. To say that you only taught piano lessons or even just music all those years is to miss the point*

    *I remember not only her, but also her mother, when their slim but shapely legs descended to the most elegant, high shoes in Spokane…Her feet were longer and thinner than mine, but I could not resist accepting one fabulous black pair that had Lucite, rhinestone-encrusted heels*

    * Mrs. Ott was a humanitarian and a deeply spiritual person. I know many of you remember her dear friend Esther Nelson. The two of them took me to the memorial service for Martin Luther King in one of the local African American churches. I still remember holding hands all around and singing, “We Shall Overcome” as tears streamed down all our faces*

    *I remember that Danny and Jimmy stood up when I came into the room and they first met me, and I said, “Mrs. Ott!! Such good manners your boys have!!” and she said, “Oh, Honey, they get that from their father.”

    * After one of the most enlightening and empowering lessons of my life, Margie May said, “Why don’t you take a nap, honey, I don’t want to wear you out.” Of course this was code for “I’m a little tired”, but the truth was that at age 84, Margie May was still giving all that she could give*

    *Auditioning for the piano faculty at New England Conservatory, I was stopped and from the back came someone saying “Why is it that we keep auditioning good pianists from Spokane, Washington?” Another then laughed and said, “Oh, it must be that clear Northwest water” and then again from the back came the deep voice of Ted Lettvin who said “It’s not the water- it’s Margie May!”*

    And my own thoughts:

    I first must acknowledge how lucky I was to have grown up in Spokane and to have had supportive parents with the foresight to get me to Margie May. She became the puppeteer for my musical education. Strings eventually loosened, but through the many years I was attached in that way, she really did help compose my life through music lessons.

    Margie May taught with her brilliant mind and her open heart. Each piano lesson was long and intense, especially if I’d practiced well! She was able to efficiently pack in oodles of information. She tailored each lesson to me, considering me individually, with my unique needs. She did this for everyone.

    She always started the lessons with touch…holding my hand, massaging my head, neck and back…talking. Then we got down to it! Singing the music, dancing the music, conducting the music. She described music as human emotion communicated through touch and she would find a way, always spontaneous and fresh, conjured from the vast supermarket of her brain, to draw out that emotion and touch from me. She used imagery, art, personal stories, beautiful quotations and so much more, in her teaching.

    She was a stickler for accuracy. Of course, the perfection she was demanding was not possible and she knew it, but it was the seeking of it that was important.

    She gave HUGE weekly assignments; impossible tasks that helped me learn to become efficient. Shortcuts occur to you under pressure like that!

    I could go on for hours about her. In fact, I do. I give a workshop for music teachers, entitled “Fridays with Margie May: Reminiscences of Study with the Incomparable Margaret Saunders Ott ” where I get into the nuts and bolts of how she taught. I use her ideas every day, in my own practicing and performing, and in my teaching.

    She was an unparalleled teacher, yes, because she really knew how to play and teach exquisitely well and could draw more out of her students than we thought possible. We trusted her for that, counted on her for that and surrendered to that.

    But what sets her even higher in the firmament is how she set us up. She helped us to direct our lives, in whatever fields we pursued. SHE decided I should start teaching at age 12. She is the one who arranged for the instrumentalists and singers I performed with as I grew up here. She set up all the performances at her home, retirement homes, the Library, the Museum, and local concert venues. She is the one who entered me in endless competitions. She decided I should attend the Summer Academy at the Salzburg Mozarteum when I was 17. I had to get around in German, a language I didn’t know! She decided that I should study privately with Theodore Lettvin at the New England Conservatory while I was a student at Wellesley College. I got no academic credit for that though I practiced more than I studied. She invited me to be her assistant and then to take her position at Whitworth College. And on it goes… Because of her, I became a darned good pianist with a darned good performing and teaching career, ready to face ANY obstacle.

    I will miss her trilling giggle, her glasses dangling on just one ear and hanging on for dear life, her calling me “angel child”, her calm reassurance that everything will be OK, her daily discoveries like “Honey, I was listening to Stephen Hawking and I realized that black holes are just like rests because they both are full of energy!” and the way she accepted my family, my friends and my children into her circle of constant celebration.

    Two more thoughts from her students:

    *Margie May spent her life lavishing her love on each and every one of her students. I will spend the rest of mine missing her*

    *I miss her calls, her voice, …her infectious love of music, and her playing, but most of all, I am grateful…grateful to have known her and to have experienced first-hand, through her example, just how much a single life can mean to so many*

    We all are so lucky to have shared the Margie May umbrella. She gave of her mind and her heart. And gave of her heart…

    In closing, from Lame Deer, Lakota tribe:
    LOVE is something that you can leave behind when you die.

    Thank you for this honor.

    Deborah Dewey
    July 18, 2010

  31. A Boy from Chiang Mai,
    Regarding Margie May Ott, I finally (may be because of the 2010 Thanksgiving approaching) have a need to express my thoughts into words and share with others.
    I was eighteen (1990) when I first met “Mrs. Ott” – that’s how I always address her (from a foreigner formality and perspective way). One of the piano teachers ”Khru Ohn” who graduated from Payap University where Mrs. Ott was a visiting artist/professor, introduced us. Back then, I was in need of improving my technic for a music competition in Bangkok. The first song I played for her, a movement from Mozart’s Sonata “Turkish March.” At that moment, honestly, I didn’t understand much what Mrs. Ott said, but I sensed that she had a good time because she started jamming with me – ringing a bell, tapping a drum, singing along with its melody. As many of you know, that’s one of her signature ways of how to bring the musicality out of her students. She offered to see me regularly even though I couldn’t afford the lessons. In her eyes (as other Americans who tend to look at Asian people 10 years younger than their actual age) I was just a little Thai boy from Chiang Mai.
    Thanks to Mrs. Ott, she didn’t only support me by giving no charge piano lessons, she also found me a scholarship so that I can further my piano studies at Payap University during and after her time teaching there. As a matter of fact, I didn’t have my heart on piano playing after she left Thailand to be treated for cancer in the U.S. With her close ties to the people in Thailand, she also was able to find me an initial scholarship so that I could start my study aboard in the U.S. I was only expected to have one year of learning experience in the U.S. However, because of Mrs. Ott (again), she found me a very generous benefactor, Dr. Elizabeth M. Welty who gave me a full support for me to finish my graduate study at the New England Conservatory.
    To Mrs. Ott, I can not thank you enough for your support and generosity. I’m grateful for every thought and minutes you gave me. Every time I miss you, I would be tinkling on the piano keys on the piece I wrote for you in 1998 “I Gave Margaret Thai Orchids.” And I will keep a promise that I made with you, that I will keep on playing the piano and return the opportunity you gave me to others.
    Happy Thanksgiving Mrs. Ott :-)
    Thiwangkorn Lilit

  32. “Thank You, Mrs Ott, for all you’ve given me. A wonderful life and career. The knowledge of how to live and love. You showed me how to climb the tallest mountain. You taught me how to dig my way out of the deepest hole. I think of you every time my hand touches the keyboard. I’ve dedicated my professional life to teaching piano. God Bless You, Mrs Ott. We miss you so much. Your loving student forever, Owen.”

  33. Jim and Dan Ott, Margie May’s sons, have established a scholarhips/award in her memory at the Spokane Music Festival (of which she was a co-founder).

  34. Here is a link to the festival’s site. I believe in my day it was known as The Inland Empire Music Festival.

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